Around the AFC: 4-0 Colts beset by injuries
What have the coaches been saying in their weekly news conferences? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the goings-on for each of the 16 AFC teams:
Buffalo Bills: The Bills' defense continues to be ravaged by injuries. Linebacker Kevin Harrison, signed only this past week to provide depth, suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday, while safety Jim Leonhard left Sunday's contest with a calf injury that threatens his Week 5 status. "We have George Wilson, we have Bryan [Scott] and we have John Wendling," said coach Dick Jauron, when asked about his remaining free safeties -- besides starter Donte Whitner -- during his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "So we'll work our way through the week and make any personnel decisions as we get closer to the weekend. We'll certainly make some by Wednesday because we've got to set a rotation in practice for the guys." Fortunately for the Bills, linebackers Keith Ellison (high ankle sprain) and Coy Wire (sprained medial collateral ligament) are nearing a return to action, with Ellison the more likely candidate to play next Monday. Regardless, the Bills' problems in the health department have had a devastating impact on their defensive performance, so don't read too much into their limiting the Jets to 14 points in Week 4. Better offenses should capitalize on the team's rapidly thinning defense, particularly one like that of the Cowboys in Week 5.
Miami Dolphins: Defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday will miss one or two weeks after suffering a lower leg fracture on Sunday, according to the Palm Beach Post. Coach Cam Cameron said during his Monday news conference that in addition to Holliday's absence in Week 5, the team could also be without linebackers Channing Crowder (ankle) and Zach Thomas (concussion), each of whom is day-to-day. Rod Wright stepped in for Holliday, hurt in the first quarter of the Week 4 contest, a significant downgrade. The Dolphins' defense has been terribly disappointing through three games, ranking 29th in points per game allowed (29.8) and 21st in total yards per game allowed (344.2), and as a unit the team has a mere five sacks. Fantasy owners of opposing quarterbacks should take note, as the matchup isn't nearly as scary on paper as it might have seemed in the preseason. That's great news for Matt Schaub (Week 5 opponent), Tom Brady (Week 7) and Eli Manning (Week 8).
New England Patriots: Running back Sammy Morris got the start Monday in place of the injured Laurence Maroney (groin), and rattled off 117 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. "He can do a lot of things well," said coach Bill Belichick after the game, according to the team's official Web site. "He can run the ball and make plays in the passing game. He has been a good player for us. He played well." Through four games, Maroney and Morris each have exactly 54 carries, though Maroney has Morris beat, 54-33, in the games in which both have played. Still, Morris is the one getting the goal-line work, with three TDs compared to none for Maroney, a trend seemingly less likely to change now that Morris has a standout effort under his belt. He's now a must-own player for Maroney owners, and there's a good chance he'll give Maroney a run for his money as the better fantasy option the rest of the year. As a flex consideration, you could do a lot worse than Morris.
New York Jets: Running back Thomas Jones' owners might not have been pleased to see him get only 12 carries in Week 4, a season low, but coach Eric Mangini stressed in his Monday news conference it's not an indication of a decrease in his workload. Like the proverbial "zig when they zag" angle, Mangini noted his team's commitment to the pass as the opposing Bills stacked the box to focus on shutting down Jones. "When you look at what the Bills were playing and the things they're doing and what's being successful, I think we were 32-of-39 throwing the ball and we were moving it pretty effectively," Mangini said, according to the team's official Web site. "They're going to do certain things to take away the run. They recognize the issues they've had and you can stack the box any way you want to stack the box, which creates opportunities elsewhere. I thought we did a good job with the other opportunities in the passing game." Jones' numbers are an aberration, though the Jets will need better quarterbacking performance in future weeks to keep opposing defenses honest.
Baltimore Ravens: Coach Brian Billick said during his Monday news conference that tight end Todd Heap's hamstring injury is the team's most serious concern coming out of Week 4. "We don't know how serious it will be, it's a lower hamstring which is good," Billick said, according to the team's official Web site. "High hamstrings are one that can linger for a while, so we'll see how it progresses during the week." Heap managed four catches for 36 yards before leaving Sunday's contest, allowing Quinn Sypniewski to sneak in for six receptions for 34 yards and a score. Backup TE Daniel Wilcox also left the Week 4 game with a foot injury, meaning Sypniewski could conceivably earn a start in Week 5. In these bye weeks, Sypniewski might not be a bad emergency replacement in that event.
Cincinnati Bengals: The bye week couldn't come at a much better time for the Bengals. Running back Rudi Johnson (hamstring) missed the Week 4 contest, with Kenny Watson managing a poor 55 yards on 13 carries in his place. Johnson's status for Week 6 wasn't immediately known following Monday's game. Wide receiver Chad Johnson left the Monday contest in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, though coach Marvin Lewis had no further information on Johnson's injury in his postgame news conference, according to the team's official Web site. Tackle Willie Anderson was also limited to only one series due to nagging heel and knee injuries. Following the game, Lewis directed a profanity-laced tirade at his struggling, 1-3 team. "If you don't want to be on this team, please don't show up!" Lewis said. "You don't call the offense, you don't call the plays. You just play. Nowhere in the NFL do guys act like this. We've got to figure this out." Expect the Bengals to come back fired up after the bye week, and their offense shouldn't be doubted despite an ugly 34-13 loss on Monday night. Still, a lot needs fixing in Cincinnati right now.
Cleveland Browns: Coach Romeo Crennel said following Sunday's game that he wasn't concerned about tight end Kellen Winslow's shoulder every time he took a hit, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He's going to get hit," Crennel said. "I think there were a couple times in the game he felt the injury. But he worked through it. He's a competitor." Winslow, wearing a harness to protect his shoulder, caught four passes for 96 yards, another respectable performance, especially in light of his playing at less than full health. His fantasy owners shouldn't be too worried about any lingering effects, and Crennel offered no reasons to think Winslow shouldn't be fine again in Week 5.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger accepted the blame for his team's disappointing 21-14 loss in Arizona in Week 4, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he erred in being intercepted by Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson in the end zone in the third quarter. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, though, wasn't as critical of his quarterback's performance. "We tried to throw the football in the end zone, and Adrian Wilson made a great play," Tomlin said. "To say anything other than Adrian Wilson made a nice play would be to discredit his performance." The interception, Roethlisberger's second of the game, dropped him to 15 ESPN fantasy points and a No. 8 ranking at the position in Week 4, still not a bad effort. Such tough mistakes shouldn't be regarded too critically in your fantasy analysis, especially with Roethlisberger's coach lacking concern about his performance.
Houston Texans: Wide receiver Andre Davis stepped up with a five-catch, 117-yard, one-TD effort this past Sunday, drawing the attention of many a fantasy owner. "I told you guys that by watching him practice, I knew the kid was going to play good," coach Gary Kubiak said during his Monday news conference, according to the team's official Web site. "He's talented. This is a huge opportunity for him in the National Football League after he's been through a few teams, and he's a kid that's ready to take advantage of it. Like I said, we suited three wide receivers and I've never done that in the National Football League, and those kids played their tails off and gave us a chance to win." The matchup did help Davis' cause, but to date quarterback Matt Schaub's performance for the Texans through four games is helping the team's receivers become fantasy relevant. Those of you in desperate circumstances shouldn't merely dismiss Texans WRs, proven or not. Speaking of Schaub, Kubiak wasn't concerned about his health coming out of Week 4. "He's OK, just banged up," Kubiak said. "Just battling and trying to get to the end zone in that quarterback draw, he took a good shot, but I think he'll be fine." Schaub has averaged 251.3 passing yards through four games, completing a TD pass in each, not bad at all considering his receivers' health issues. He's a more than adequate fantasy backup at this point.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were hit remarkably hard by injuries this past Sunday, and coach Tony Dungy expressed in his Monday news conference concerns that running back Joseph Addai (shoulder), wide receiver Marvin Harrison (knee), linebacker Rob Morris (leg), safety Bob Sanders (ribs) and tight end Ben Utecht (concussion) might not be available in Week 5. "All the guys that were hurt yesterday have a chance to be out," Dungy said, according to the Indianapolis Star. "We'll plan for all of them to be out and see where we sit on Tuesday." Addai's and Harrison's are the most significant injuries for fantasy; each was a top-25 pick overall -- at worst -- in the preseason, and a must-start every week. MRIs were scheduled for each on Monday night, but for now, Addai has a bruised shoulder, Harrison a bruised left knee. Running back Kenton Keith should be a popular pickup after rushing 10 times for 80 yards in relief of Addai in Week 4, even if his primary long-term value is as an Addai handcuff. Rookie wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, meanwhile, is no lock to start if Harrison misses time. Aaron Moorehead could just as easily get the call, though Gonzalez remains an interesting keeper-league consideration, especially since he'd see an expanded role if Harrison sits. Reggie Wayne's value stands to get the most significant boost from a Harrison injury, though tight ends Dallas Clark and Utecht -- if healthy -- would benefit too.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Health on the defensive side of the ball was the Jaguars' primary concern coming out of their Week 4 bye. "Right now for us, we have a few guys who we think will get healed up," said coach Jack Del Rio, according to the team's official Web site. "So it's not a bad time for us. Ideally, you'd have [the bye] later in the year so that you have a chance to kind of heal up and then have a push. But we don't have any say in that thing." Del Rio said he hopes to have defensive tackle John Henderson (head) and linebacker Clint Ingram (high ankle sprain) back for Week 5 against the Chiefs. Note that the Jaguars currently rank second in the league in fewest points per game allowed (11.3) and fourth in fewest total yards per game allowed (287.7), and they're only getting healthier. Suddenly, that Week 1 disappointment against the Titans seems like ages ago; the Jags' defense is again performing like an elite unit. Keep that in mind looking forward.
Tennessee Titans: Coach Jeff Fisher addressed tight end Ben Troupe's poor performance so far this season during his Monday news conference. "I think it's just a matter of we've only played three weeks, the way the offense has gone, the emphasis on the run game, and the fact that he was hurt and missed quite a bit of camp," Fisher said, according to the team's official Web site. "He only played in the final preseason game. It's not because, as some people speculated, that he's not in our plans or he can't do it. It's just that we've only played three games and he hasn't had the opportunity. We'll continue to work him in, and I would expect that hopefully in the next few weeks we'll talk about how well he is playing." Note that Titans teams of the past regularly involved their tight ends in the mix, including 2005, when Troupe managed a respectable 55 catches for 530 yards and four TDs. At this point he's probably not going to become particularly fantasy worthy at any stage this season, but Fisher's comments do indicate he'll be someone to monitor in coming weeks.
Denver Broncos: Running back Travis Henry, who missed brief action in Week 4 with ankle and knee injuries, was scheduled for an MRI exam Monday night. "I was worried," he told the Denver Post following Sunday's game. "I felt sharp pain in my knee, first. Then my knee and my ankle. But the X-ray came back negative, so that's a blessing." Though coach Mike Shanahan offered no further information on Henry's Week 5 status during his Monday news conference, the star running back remained optimistic. "I think I'll play," Henry said. "I know my body, and I think things will settle down in a couple days and I'll be able to get back in there." In the event things go downhill quickly with Henry, though, Selvin Young would likely get the start. Shanahan also offered no further information on wide receiver Javon Walker's status for Week 5, according to the team's official Web site. Walker was scheduled to receive treatment on Monday. "It started getting a little worse than we thought," Walker told the Denver Post of his injury leading up to Sunday's contest. "It's nothing to do with the surgery, nothing with the surgically repaired knee. It's just some irritation in there, fluid that had built up, and we just felt it would be best to sit this one out." Brandon Marshall stands to benefit most from any further game action Walker misses.
Kansas City Chiefs: Coach Herm Edwards continued to sing the praises of rookie wide receiver Dwayne Bowe following Sunday's game. "We knew he was a big-play guy and we're going to throw him the ball whether Eddie [Kennison] was well or not," Edwards said, according to the team's official Web site. "He was going to play. When Eddie comes back, [Bowe's] going to start. He's going to start. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to draft young players and play 'em. He's ready to play. His first game he didn't play as well as people anticipated, but I think he's made up for it in the last three." Bowe now has a touchdown catch in three consecutive games, making him an instant pickup in every league. His owners have to be happy to hear he's now guaranteed a starting role for the foreseeable future. That'll keep him a useful No. 3/4 weekly option at worst.
Oakland Raiders: Following Sunday's game, running back LaMont Jordan needed crutches to walk because his lower back was unable to support his weight, according to the Oakland Tribune. He left the Week 4 contest in the second quarter; backup Justin Fargas took off for 179 rushing yards on 22 carries in his stead. "I could see by the pain he was in on the field, I knew I was going to have to step up and pick up where he left off," Fargas said. "You hate to see a teammate go down like that. LaMont's a great friend of mine and you hate to see a guy in pain. It's up to me to get him what he deserves, to go out there and fight for him." Fargas might seem a popular pickup coming off a breakout game, but with Dominic Rhodes now eligible to return from suspension and the team getting a Week 5 bye to allow Jordan to heal, don't be too hasty to cut a meaningful player for him. The team could just as easily go with a Fargas/Rhodes time-share in Week 6 should Jordan need to miss more time. Still, bye week or not, it's bad timing for Jordan. On a side note, X-rays taken Monday were negative. Coach Lane Kiffin said in his Monday news conference that he's not officially declaring Daunte Culpepper his starting quarterback, according to the Tribune. "If we played tomorrow, he'd start," said Kiffin, who declined to address the issue of who is his long-term starter. With Josh McCown potentially out for up to four more games due to a foot injury, Culpepper has a golden opportunity to nab the role in the meantime. He's a shakier fantasy option than he showed in Week 4, but if he retains the starting job, Culpepper could have some spot-start appeal.
San Diego Chargers: Wide receiver Craig Davis suffered a strained tendon in his ankle this past Sunday, coach Norv Turner said during his Monday news conference. Davis might miss some early-week practice time, though all indications are that he'll play in Week 5. Considering the rookie has only seven catches for 54 yards and a score through four games, though, Malcolm Floyd might soon threaten his playing time. The Chargers' struggles in the passing game -- most notably quarterback Philip Rivers' problems getting the ball downfield -- don't help matters, either. In other Chargers wide receiver news, Turner also said Monday that Eric Parker will miss another three to four weeks while recovering from toe surgery. Don't expect any of these players to make much of a fantasy impact in the near future.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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